Opening April 19: Northern Clothing and Identity in the Spotlight at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum

Winter has come and gone, but staff members at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum are still thinking about how to dress warmly. The Museum’s newest exhibit, Threads of Change: Clothing and Identity in the North, looks at how people in the Arctic have kept themselves warm and dry in the past and how they do so today. It also examines how, over the last 100 years or so, northern people have innovated and changed some aspects of their attire, while also retaining and wearing traditional clothes reflecting the styles of their ancestors.

Holding Sealskin, Silas Qayaqjuaq, Hall Beach/Ottawa, 2010. Antler. Museum purchase. Photograph by Luc Demers

The Museum will mark the evening opening on Wednesday, April 19 with a talk by clothing designer, filmmaker, and throat singer Becky Qilavvaq at 7 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, Visual Arts Center, on the Bowdoin College campus.

In her talk, ”Inuit Clothing and Identity in the Modern World,” Qilavvaq will discuss some contemporary issues facing by Canadian Inuit. The lecture will be followed by a reception in Hubbard Hall where visitors can view the exhibit. The events are free and open the public.

In addition to being a clothing designer and artist, Qilavvaq works as the Youth Programs Coordinator for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in Iqaluit. She leads workshops for young people on Inuit culture, history and leadership, and is a co-founder of the Embrace Life Council, which focuses on suicide prevention. In all her work she celebrates Inuit culture and seeks to find a balance between traditional and modern ways of expression.

“We are very excited to have Becky coming to Maine,” says curator Genevieve LeMoine. “We have watched her delightful short film, Feel the Inukness, will be exhibiting one of the dresses she has designed, and look forward to hearing her perspectives on the challenges and opportunities Inuit, and in particular young Inuit, face today.”

Doll’s Fancy Boots, Green Family, Nain, Labrador, ca. 1950. Sealskin, wool, cotton floss. Gift of Elizabeth Green Solis.

The exhibit includes clothing from the nineteenth century right up to the present and looks at how styles and techniques of making clothing have changed, and how they have stayed the same over that time. Highlights range from a rare and beautiful 150-year-old rain coat made from seal intestines to a high-fashion pencil skirt made from sealskin by Alaskan Yup’ik designer Peter Kawagaelg Williams and a sleeveless dress designed by Qilavvaq.

“In addition to seeing a variety of parkas, visitors will be able to examine the wide range of amazing footwear worn by people across the north, and watch video footage of seamstresses working with traditional materials such as hide, grass, and sea mammal intestines,” said LeMoine.

“Today, young people in the north continue to draw on traditional designs and materials to create exciting new fashions,” says museum director Susan Kaplan. “They are developing innovative new styles, while also embracing skills and knowledge learned from their parents and grandparents. Wearing these clothes is an important part of expressing their heritage and identity in the modern world, so we are delighted to be able to share this exhibition, which celebrates Inuit creativity, with the public.”

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